Though the cliches are common and the story is overwrought, what else are you going to do while you wait for season 5 of Game of Thrones?
Perhaps you weren’t one of the fans of the 2010 movie Legion, but you don’t need that backstory to dive into SyFy’s new spin-off, Dominion… mostly because during Dominion’s plodding, 90-minute premiere it doesn’t skimp on backstory. The pilot episode is jam packed with cliches as the show tries to decide whether it wants to be Fallout, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones or, more likely, all three at once. It makes for a busy hour and a half of television, but the show does feature some solid performances (like a villainous Anthony Stewart Head), good CG effects (though they’re mixed with less good effects), gorgeous sets, and an elaborate world that you could easily get lost in. The story has an epic sense of scale, one that hardly seems to fit into the small size of a television screen, even with a lengthy premiere episode.
The size of the world is the real problem: Dominion has a lot of setup to do before it can really get into the meat of the story, and it may well lose your attention before it gets there. Making matters worse, the cast of characters seems to enjoy repeating things we already know to make sure everyone’s on the same page, which makes the episode ping pong between confusing and repetitive. However, if you’re a fan of supernatural stories inspired by religious mythology — and find yourself missing CW’s Supernatural — the show might be worth a watch… if only to enjoy Head getting to go full-out villain. Additionally, though the show is laden with cliches, it combines them in a fashion that might amount to something new.
At any rate, there’s enough interesting about the pilot that we might see the show settle into something watchable. Though it’s not exactly a recommendation, it’s the best that can be given after the first episode. You can catch episodes of Dominion on SyFy Thursdays at 9/8c, but you can also watch full episodes on SyFy.com. Now, let’s tear into the pilot. Spoilers follow.
Dominion takes place 25 years after Legion. God has left, and in the aftermath many angels held man responsible and waged war on the humans. One angel, Michael, chose to fight for man and has helped them rebuild in a post-apocalyptic world that’s part Fallout: New Vegas and part The Walking Dead. Dominion is set in a rebuilt Las Vegas, which its inhabitants now call Vega.
Before going any further, let’s cover the primary characters. The episode does a poor job of introducing them, so here’s a cheat sheet:
- Alex Lannen: A soldier and our protagonist, played by Christopher Egan.
- Michael: The only angel to side with humanity, played by Tom Wisdom.
- Claire Riesen: Daughter of General Edward Riesen and Alex’s lover, played by Roxanne McKee.
- General Edward Riesen: Head of House Riesen and Lord of the City, played by Alan Dale.
- Jeep: Alex’s father, who abandoned him and has been traveling and thought dead for the past 15 years. Played by Langley Kirkwood.
- David Whele: Head of House Whele and one of Vega’s senators. Played by Anthony Head.
- William Whele: David’s son and the leader of Vega’s Church of the Savior. He’s in love with Claire and oblivious to Claire and Alex’s relationship. Played by Luke Allen-Gale.
- Arika: Leader of a diplomatic delegation from neighboring Helena, played by Shivani Ghai.
- Gabriel: An angel who wants to wipe out humanity, played by Carl Beukes.
Now, the episode: We open on Alex alone in an abandoned Las Vegas casino. When he hears a noise, he goes to investigate and somehow manages to step on what’s likely the only whole glass in the building, alerting a group of three angels to his presence.
It’s here that I start to wonder about this show. Alex is the main character and he’s supposed to be, if nothing else, competent. But as he flees from these angels back to the safety of the city walls, I can’t help but think that the whole encounter was pretty much his fault: first being out on his own, second going to investigate while out on his own, third stepping on that glass. He could have walked away, which would have seen the wiser course since he was alone and, we find out later, no one even knew he’d left the city… but then we wouldn’t have had a dramatic chase scene of Alex driving furiously to safety while an angry angel punches through his windshield.
At least it opens the show on a dramatic note…
Though he makes it back safely, killing one angel, luring one into the city’s defensive guns, and outrunning a third, Alex is in trouble since he wasn’t meant to be outside the city in the first place. It seems like he’s being set up as a Jack Bauer type with a problem with authority, but so far he’s been shockingly less competent than Bauer on a bad day. (Though Jack Bauer fighting angels is a show I’d probably watch.)
Considering all humanity’s been through, Vega is looking pretty good — the strip is lit up just like you’d see it today, and though it’s crowded with people who seem less than content with their lot in life, aside from the lack of tourists, this could be Las Vegas any night of the week. However, this is our first glimpse at the seedy underside of Vega: the city has a caste system and those in lower castes will have trouble finding a place to sleep for the night, which accounts, at least in part, for the crowds milling around. Seeing the lights of Las Vegas contrasted with the post apocalyptic world around it makes for some great visuals, but though the show does it well, it’s not exactly new — maybe if you haven’t played Fallout: New Vegas or read (or watched) Stephen King’s The Stand, Vegas as the last bastion of humanity will seem new to you… but for a lot of people it won’t.
In another cliched moment, Claire pulls Alex into a kiss at the first possible opportunity and the two detail their plans to marry. Claire intends to talk to her father about the two of them, but Alex has a back up plan — a truck filled with supplies that would be enough to get them out of town. Everyone watching knows that this is never going to happen… which is proven correct when Claire goes to speak to her father but instead he drops the bombshell that he wants to resign. When he asks what she’d come in to talk about, she says it was nothing. Strike one for our crazy lovebirds.
To add fuel to the fire of Vega, there’s Senator Whele, who tells General Riesen that perhaps the panic caused by letting the public know of an angel attack wouldn’t be a bad thing — the people have grown lazy and complacent under their protection. Whele is clearly looking to advance his position, and seems quite willing to do whatever needed to get there. Played by Head sporting an American accent, Whele is eminently watchable, even if he does probably want the worst for everyone in the series who isn’t him… but considering the show so far, I’m not sure I have a problem with that.
It’s about now that our hero discovered that his long-lost father, Jeep, has returned to Vega (cliche #1). His father abandoned him as a young boy (cliche #2), which relegated him to the city’s lowest class, essentially leaving him to die. Alex refuses to have anything to do with his father (cliche #3), though he does accept a photo of his mother from him (cliche #4). His father tells him, “It’s been my good luck charm all these years. Now it’s yours.” And this is how we know Jeep is going to die (cliche #5) and that Alex is going to regret this conversation while standing over his father’s body (cliche #6). There are so many cliches jammed in here that it’s probably its own unique art form… but the short arc of their relationship feels nothing if not predictable.
However, Jeep has news: he’s found Gabriel who’s been amassing angelic troops in a fortress outside of Boulder. Now, just wait a second: Boulder was where the other encampment of survivors was in The Stand. Are we just picking locations from Stephen King books? (Or one Stephen King book?) Is this just The Stand with angels? Signs are currently pointing towards yes. But repetitiveness aside, this does not look good for Vega: Gabriel has lots of troops on his side and more dangerous angels than they’ve faced before. We are then shown an angel who has cribbed its armor design from Magneto — angelic fashion sense is truly terrifying.
Instead of dwelling on their imminent death by angel, Jeep goes on to say it’s time to reveal the identity of the chosen one. If there is a chosen one destined to lead the remains of the human race to victory over the angels, it seems like that information would be useful to know immediately, but instead Jeep and Michael only say they’ll reveal the answer “soon enough.” I can’t decide if this is another cliche or just terrible writing, since it makes very little sense, plot-wise, to say “I have crucial information to the future of humanity, but I can’t tell you just yet. And I can’t tell you why I can’t tell you. And I can’t tell you when I can tell you.”
This unnecessary dramatic beat does, however, serve the purpose of letting Whele rail against religion. He doesn’t have space for a chosen one in his plans to consolidate power, and announces, “We’re the chosen ones, not some imaginary savior.” He continues, questioning how they’ll even know that whomever Jeep and Michael name actually is the chosen one… and, honestly, he makes some fair points — but his lack of faith leaves his son — who, remember, is head of Vega’s church — visibly upset
And now because this seems like a great idea — and also Whele insisted they carry on — it’s time for the city’s Jubilee, an extravagant pageant surrounding a gladiatorial combat ring. Whele kicks off the party by announcing the engagement of William and Claire, which comes as a surprise to Claire — but not her father. This is strike two for our lovebirds.
Whele follows up by releasing an angel — the last of the three that had been chasing Alex at the beginning of the episode — into the ring.
Surprising no one who’s watching — though Whele seemed genuinely shocked — the angel escapes and causes a fair amount of chaos before Michael kills it. And it’s not the last of the angels: more have now breached the perimeter of the city. It’s enough to send everyone in a mad stampede to get out and to safety, which Alex tells Claire is the perfect chance to get away… but Claire explains her father needs her and they should to stay to defend the city.
Romance really is dead when your lover wants to stay in a city that’s under attack after she’s been betrothed against her her will. And that’s strike number three — bye bye, lovebirds.
They head into a bunker just in time to watch one of the members of the Helena delegation — an angel in disguise — kills Jeep. Alex shouts for a medic while Jeep, with his dying breath, says, “You’re ready. I believe in you. You are the chosen one.” The only surprise in this scene is the fact that Alex now has the tattoos that previously covered Jeep’s arms, supposedly a sign that he is, indeed, the chosen one.
Whele and Riesen argue over what’s just happened, but Whele is convinced that things have worked out for the best… except for the surprise about Alex, anyway. “Vega has become unfocused and so have you. My little demonstration [with the angel] couldn’t have worked any better. Now we’ll all be ready for the battle that’s coming.” Just in case you didn’t know he was a bad guy, Whele had to explain he’s totally cool with angelic murder in order to motivate people… and somehow no one calls him on it or his stunt of bringing an angel into the city in the first place. Is Whele really so powerful that his fellow senators can do nothing but glare at him? Apparently so.
In the end, we’re left with a damaged city after one of the angels smashes into the factor that powers the city. Whele’s plans to seize power are delayed with the entry of Alex as the chosen one, Riesen might be rethinking his plans to resign, and Alex is having a minor identity crisis — not helped by his tattoos, which are telling him not to trust anyone. (Yes, his tattoos sending him secret messages is an actual plot element.) And since no one here seems to trust anyone else here, going with the advice from the magical tattoos is probably going to work.
Though a last-minute twist will change the way you think of at least one of our central characters, it may not be enough to get you to tune in again next week… in which case, good luck with that, Alex.
So, readers: what did you think about the first episode of Dominion? Will you be tuning in again next week?